Minneapolis

Twin Cities taking steps toward increasing pedestrian safety

2021-07-14 22:07:15 –

Minneapolis and St. Paul are working on new efforts with researchers from the University of Minnesota to make crosswalks safer for pedestrians.

Large blue signs, updated weekly, will now show the rate that drivers have been yielding to pedestrians at select sites. The aim is to raise awareness and help communities track their progress, researchers said.

A study — which began in April and will end in November — is measuring how many drivers stop for people crossing the street and how various engineering treatments may affect pedestrian safety at crossings.

“We’re hoping that we’ll start to begin to see culture change across the entire city, even where local engineering has not been implemented,” said Nichole Morris, director of the University of Minnesota’s HumanFirst Laboratory, which is leading the effort.

Researchers have selected 32 sites for their study, funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Some sites will receive additional signs, markings and other traffic-calming measures, while other sites will be monitored for comparison.

In Minneapolis, crosswalks are already being improved with white markings. The city has seen a boost in drivers’ compliance to pedestrian laws since adding markings to the pavement, Morris said.

The researchers go out twice a week to observe and act as stage pedestrians to measure how many drivers stop, keeping tallies until they make 20 crossings, Morris said.

In the last five years, there have been more than 2,598 crashes involving pedestrians in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Of those, more than 400 involved youth, including 183 children ages 10 and under, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Over the last 18 months, fatal and severe crashes that involve speeding or reckless driving increased significantly in the two cities and across the nation. Last year, more than 70% of fatal crashes in Minneapolis involved high speeds.

In St. Paul, police and researchers have been working on changing motorists’ behavior regarding intersections for a few years. In 2016 and 2017, in a campaign called “Stop for Me,” St. Paul police fanned out to intersections throughout the city to monitor and ticket motorists who did not stop for pedestrians, or who performed other dangerous behaviors such as passing a vehicle that was stopped for someone in a crosswalk. Change, officials said, was badly needed.

In 2016, 188 pedestrians were hit by motorists in St. Paul. The following year, that number rose to 192. There have been three or more pedestrians killed each year for the past few years, said police spokesman Steve Linders. Three have been killed so far this year.

Researchers think that Stop for Me may have had an effect in the years that followed. After another effort in 2018, drivers stopped for pedestrians at crosswalks as often as 83% of the time, up from 32%, based on researcher observations.

Morris said St. Paul drivers appear to have gotten the crosswalk message better than those in Minneapolis. Last week, 52% of drivers were stopping for pedestrians at study locations in St. Paul and 36% at locations in Minneapolis.

Is that because of Stop for Me?

“It’s really hard for me to say,” Morris said. “But there has not been a Stop for Me in Minneapolis.”

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul leaders hope to achieve similar success this year with the new pedestrian effort.

The new safety program is also encouraging community members to take a pledge that helps drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists commit to safe practices, such as following the new Minneapolis and St. Paul citywide speed limits of 20 miles per hour unless otherwise posted, stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks, and crossing roadways in a “predictable” manner.

To learn more about the pedestrian safety research project, including the study locations, go to tcsafetycup.umn.edu/study-information.

jim.walsh@startribune.com • 612-673-7428

faiza.mahamud@startribune.com • 612-673-4203

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